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Turn the BBC into a Cooperative

By Sara Scarlett
February 7th, 2012 at 12:35 pm | 21 Comments | Posted in BBC, UK Politics

The television license is a tax in everything but name but advert-free, non-profit television should always be an option for consumers. Turning the BBC from a government-owned corporation into a consumer-owned cooperative would mean nothing about its current high quality content would change – just the unfair aspect of how it is funded.

As it is currently structured, the funding of the BBC creates a lot of losers. I love BBC programming but I rarely watch any BBC channels beyond BBC One and Two. I hardly ever watch sport and do not have access to BBC Three and Four. If you only use your TV to play video games and watch X-Factor on ITV, the license fee means you lose out entirely.

Many regard spending £145.50 year on television as frivolous spending they would never normally do unless made to do so – especially in an economic climate where a great deal of us are watching the pennies more closely. As a consumer I should only have to pay for the services I use. Likewise other people should not have to pay for television I enjoy and value if they don’t enjoy and value it themselves. That is unfair.

In many respects the BBC is broken. It is wasteful and has no incentive to cut back on that unnecessary spending. In recent years I believe that a lot of legitimate criticism of the BBC would have been avoided had the BBC taken more time to appreciate what their audience wanted. This would certainly have prevented instances where the BBC overstaffed events, such as Glastonbury and the Dale Farm Eviction.

Currently 20% of BBC funding comes from sources other than the license fee. Those sources could be expanded and this other revenue – coupled with efficiency savings – can take care of niche channels like BBC Parliament and other innovation and experimentation.

Were the BBC a cooperative, members would pay a yearly fee for the service in lieu of commercial advertising. Logistically speaking this may mean the small matter of having a BBC box in your living room. But rather than a flat license fee for everyone this would allow for a variety of membership options, ranging from cheap ‘Basic’ and ‘Student’ options to expensive options with more channels or packages specifically geared towards your interests.

Being a cooperative would mean the BBC would be owned by the individuals who choose to be members rather than being the jurisdiction of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. The members would be democratically enabled thus; the BBC would be more accountable to its audience. I predict that this would result in the content of the BBC becoming much higher quality and the organisation itself becoming leaner and more efficient.

Turning the Beeb into a cooperative is a win-win situation. If you were given the opportunity to preserve something that you enjoy and value, whilst at the same time making it more fair, efficient, democratically accountable and – most importantly – more liberal – it would be silly not to do so.

Sign the e-petition here:



Ever Closer Union?

By Simon Goldie
December 1st, 2011 at 11:00 am | Comments Off on Ever Closer Union? | Posted in Economics, Liberal Democrats, Policy, UK Politics

The Liberal Democrat leadership had intended to fight the next general election on the basis that they had taken tough decisions and those decisions had paid off. The view was that by 2013 the economy would have turned around and voters who were angry with the party would forgive them by 2015.

After the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement it looks as though this strategy is no longer tenable. Danny Alexander made clear on Newsnight that he believes the party will go into the election arguing for more cuts to public expenditure in order to deal with a structural deficit that will not have been entirely dealt with. This is because in government, the party is committed to the plan set out by the Conservative Chancellor, George Osborne.

It is true that Ed Miliband has said that the Labour party needs to think hard about how it can deliver its social justice agenda while dealing with a difficult economic situation. If the leader of the opposition is making the case for continued cuts, it is not surprising that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is too.

However, Alexander’s statement has already caused concern for some in the party.

That is not surprising given that Alexander’s comments have profound implications for the party.

If the good times had arrived by 2015, it might have been easier for the Liberal Democrats to distance themselves from their coalition partners. Now they will enter the election standing on a record of austerity with more austerity to come. The party will say that things would have been worse if the country had had a majority Conservative government. Whether the voters will make that distinction is open to question. Both parties will not only sound awfully similar as they fight for every vote they can get they will, apparently, be fighting on the same policy regarding cuts.

By now, the reader will have realised that this post is not about the ever closer union of Europe.

The fate of the Liberal Democrats will depend on the electorate’s verdict. It will be very difficult for the party to enter into coalition with Labour given the current political atmosphere. For those in the party who wold prefer that outcome, they need either Labour or the Conservatives to win outright and for the Lib Dems to have time to regroup and develop a different political agenda that will differentiate the party from its years in power. Then they need another election that produces a hung parliament.

If the 2015 result leads to five more years of a blue and yellow administration the parties will start to be seen as natural allies.

The upside of all this is that the party continues to govern and implement its policies. The downside is that it could lose its identity. The electoral consequences would then be bleak.

Assuming Lib Dem members would rather see the party carry on governing but not lose their identity in an ever closer union with the Conservatives, they need to ensure that the party offers a set of clear liberal policies. If people understand what the party stands for, that it is implementing some of these policies in government and that its vision for the future is consistent with the past, the party will stand a better chance of electoral success.

Crucially, it needs to be positive in government while being separate. It can’t appear as simply complaining about the Tories. It has to work with them in order to ensure its policies are successful.

It is not going to be easy. The public are rightly worried about the economy and what will happen in the next few years. Being in government is a great responsibility. A wrong decision can impact on many people. The party will need to think long and hard about the policies it puts forward.


Sympathy for Occupy LSX?

By Guest
November 28th, 2011 at 10:00 am | 6 Comments | Posted in UK Politics

In Egypt, they endure the bullets; in Syria, they risk torture and summary execution; in China, they are immolating themselves in ever greater numbers, directly giving their lives for an ounce of equality. In the West, they sit in tents and paint funny signs. It’s not because they’re uncommitted, but because that’s all they need to do. They endure the taunting of the right, the chilling weather and the risk of arbitrary arrest but they stay … and many of them even smile.

In the early days of mass media, the disaffected found that peaceful but irritating acts of protest gain the exposure that spread their message and damaged the reputation of those they targeted. While the Suffragettes were widely scorned for their tactics of disrupting public events and chaining themselves to railings, ‘right-thinking’ man and woman alike cheering the arrest of each, the freedom fighters  earned themselves the reverence of history.

And so it continued throughout the last century, through strikers, hippies, anti-war protesters, miners, Poll Tax rioters, animal welfare and green activists – all were ridiculed, feared and punished for their disturbing of the public mores. They dressed untidily, made lots of noise, blocked the public highway and failed to engage in a sophisticated way with the establishment. Yet, I would argue, the messages of each one enlightened the political debate and shifted public opinion in their favour.

Britain remains such a psychologically conservative nation that we have an inherent distrust of radicalism in all its forms. Paradoxically, by allowing a society where free debate and protest are allowed, we open the floodgates to the radical movements that much of the world has generally been able to suppress. Whereas marches and strikes were once met with sabres and rifles, November 30th will be little more than a family day out for the lower-middle classes.

And now it’s happening again. When it became clear that the Occupy protesters were not going anywhere, the public’s first reaction was to get ticked off. They were accused of spoiling St Paul’s for the tourists and wedding parties; of sophistry with their lack of fully considered demands; and the news that some of the protesters were leaving their tents abandoned for the odd night at home was met with incredulity as if they were trying to dupe the public to undeserved sympathy.

More recently, they’re being perceived as engaging in some sort of squatters party, endlessly drinking in public, urinating in alleyways, filling their veins with heroin and infecting one another with AIDS in an orgy of leftie pleasure. It’s become so de rigueur for the chattering classes to mock them that even the apolitical millionaire entertainer, Chris Evans, strongly stated his distaste for them on his otherwise bland Radio 2 breakfast show.

But now their stamina to withstand weather, legal threats and time has been demonstrated, they are starting to get plaudits from among the radical edges of the establishment. Celebrity campaigners, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Opposition Leader and now the Business Secretary have all added their sympathy in recent weeks, each bringing a small drip of credibility to the movement. This support is more powerful than jeers from bores like Boris Johnson and it makes it that much harder for the police to move against them.

What much of the right-wing press is unwilling to admit is that there is something impressive about the creativity and responsible nature of the protesters. Unlike the self-serving public sectors workers about to engage in the most disruptive strike action the UK has seen for a generation, the Occupy movement are not blackmailing the nation; unlike the destructive anarchy that has accompanied recent protest marches, their methods have tiptoed the minefield around the confusing web of criminal offences that would allow the police to sweep in and arrest them; unlike the petitioners and rally speakers and public meeting holders, they aren’t just in the news one day and forgotten the next.

Of course, the ill-conceived and unrealistic demands of the protesters mean that they will be judged by popular history as a failure. There will be no ending of greed, no destroying of capitalism, no removing of the profit incentive while simultaneously funding evermore social welfare. But their language and their arguments are already sneaking into our consciousness and our vocabulary, even in Westminster. They may be young, naive and economically illiterate but even those of us who realise markets are a mostly reliable force for good tend to agree that things have gone badly wrong and the system must be amended.

Unlike those striking for others to pay for the masses to continue generously funding their pensions, Occupy will win because their message resonates: the system is broken, the bankers got away with it and the innocent were punished. The next month is key: if they survive eviction, snowfall and the draw of a family Christmas, then their credibility will be assured. They will serve to remind us not to be distracted by the Eurozone and the credit agencies and all the foreign things we can do little about and they will serve to remind the bankers and politicians that the country is still awaiting justice.

David M Gibson is a classical liberal and a member of the Liberal Democrats. He is currently interning at Lib Dem HQ for the campaigns team. A collection of his writings can be found at, as well as on the Freedom Association website.  David recently  posted “the stupid 100%” here on LV.

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The Stupid 100%

By Guest
October 19th, 2011 at 10:53 am | 4 Comments | Posted in UK Politics

99% are angry. Well, actually, we don’t know how they feel but a minuscule percentage of them are giving up their weekends to vent what they claim is the anger of the rest of us. They’re angry about greed – the greed of the bankers and the policy makers they are blaming for this long economic storm. The last time the global economy seemed so dire, it was the greed of the investors and manufacturers that was blamed for it all. So what are the protesters trying to say? 1% of us are greedy and the other 99% aren’t? After all, if self-interest is such a destructive thing, how else could civilisation have taken off?

This greed of the few idea seems to be shared by Ed Miliband, who recently used his conference speech to set out a new economic doctrine that will appeal to his innately anti-business supporters while accounting for the clear fact that capitalism has served most of us pretty damn well. Ed intends the new dichotomy in the Labour narrative to be the merits of (benevolent) ‘producers’ against (greedy) ‘predators’ in business practice:

Predators are just interested in the fast buck, taking what they can out of the business. … It’s about different ways of doing business, ways that the rules of our economy can favour or discourage.

This is far more momentous than his detractors are currently giving him credit for as, with such language, the Ed formerly known as ‘Red’ has hit upon language that encapsulates the zeitgeist of the economic crisis; his parlance expresses the popular understanding of business – popular in that it is emotive, widely-held and, regrettably, almost entirely without substance.

I recently attended a talk where Dr Eamonn Butler of the Adam Smith Institute very succinctly expressed the antithesis to this: that trade in a capitalist system is entered into voluntarily, and neither party would enter into an exchange unless it is of benefit to them both. As an example, he gave an anecdote of overcoming linguistic and cultural barriers to get his trousers repaired in a Chinese market. Perhaps he paid above normal price for the exchange or the seamstress could have asked for more, yet “my trousers were repaired,” he explained, “and she got paid for her time.” Where then is there room for destructive self-interest in a free market system?

The problem is that we all enter into transactions we come to regret. We have always experienced hotels less grand than first they appear or the cowboy builders whose services we realise all too late should never have been engaged. Having lived myself in China, I can recount numerous situations where a service or product I purchased turn out to be of substandard quality, with little available recourse in a country where stifling bureaucracy does not extend to consumer rights.

And how did I respond? I learned to rely upon recommendations and previous experiences, or I purchased goods online from reputable Western companies. As time went on, I learned from my mistakes. And oddly enough, those companies I turned to were richer than those who had exploited my naivety.

It is not selflessness that achieves long term success but mutual self-interest; nor is it predatory capitalism that causes economic woes but what I would coin stupid capitalism. All around us are the foolish traders: from the idiots in the financial world whose belief they could profit from bad debt saw their wealth and reputation wiped out, to the morons who lost their homes because they took out mortgages they could ill-afford; from the arrogant slum landlords, recently exposed by Channel Four, who thought they’d never get caught, to the tenants ignorant of tenancy law who never reported the criminal behaviour; from the drug user who buys talcum powder from a stranger in the street, to that same dealer who exposes himself to violence and arrest night after night and misses the repeat custom reputation brings with it.

The sad fact is that free exchange does not occur on the terms most favourable to both parties when either party has insufficient foreknowledge of the benefits and risks of the exchange. Often this takes the form of the consumer having false security over the quality of the goods they wish to buy. Very often it is likely that the trader does not realise that the goods are unsuitable or of unacceptable quality as, over the long-term, a poor reputation and legal challenges are likely to run their business to the ground.

In the above cases, government regulation has not only failed to prevent poor exchange, it has facilitated them, by creating black-markets for drugs, a shortage of truly affordable housing or a false sense of security in the financial world. Instead the solution is, naturally, a liberal one: informing choice.

Kite-marks, labelling and ratings are an excellent way of informing the consumer of the quality and negative externalities involved in a trade. From energy efficiency labels on fridges, to the units of alcohol in beer and the sell-by-dates on food, labelling serves to empower consumer decisions and rewards businesses who best fulfil our desires with higher sales. Wherever you are in the world, staying at a hostel branded by non-profit organisation Hostelling International usually avoids the danger of having your travel experience ruined by the slummy accommodation that proliferates the cheap end of the market; so too does Hostel Bookers, whose website allows you to read the ratings and comments of others before you book.

The information given by such media is not always perfect. Amazon’s seller-rating system, for example, allows users to rate only the efficient delivery of the trader and not the quality of the electronic goods many of them sell; while Sushil Mohan’s Fair Trade Without the Froth expose how the Fairtrade Foundation implements a subjective understanding of ‘fairness’, backed up with an expensive regime of demands on its members, which serves to benefit producers in developing countries at the possible expense of subsistence farmers in the Third World.

But whatever the details of its implementation, consumer knowledge is economic power. The narrative that free exchange is always and everywhere mutually beneficial is unlikely to win over many of the 99%. If we are to protect capitalism from popular punitive measures which only make matters worse, a new narrative is needed: it’s not a greedy 1% that must be combated, it’s the ignorance of the 100%.

David M Gibson is a classical liberal and a member of the Liberal Democrats. He is currently interning at Lib Dem HQ for the campaigns team. A collection of his writings can be found at, as well as on the Freedom Association website.

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The fightback starts here…

By Angela Harbutt
July 15th, 2011 at 11:22 am | 2 Comments | Posted in freedom, Government, Personal Freedom, UK Politics

Stony Stratford in Buckinghamshire, UK, is a small market town, with a long history and a serious claim to ownership of the term ‘cock and bull story’. At the height of the great coaching era, when Stony Stratford was an important stopping-off point for mail and passenger coaches travelling between London and the North there was much rivalry between the two main coaching inns – The Cock and The Bull -the two inns fighting to see which could furnish the most outlandish and scurrilous travellers’ tales…..

You might be forgiven therefore for thinking that the latest news to emerge from this sleepy English town was a nostalgic revival of that old tradition. A PR man’s great idea to get Stony back onto the map with a story of outlandish proportions that people would sit up and take notice of this quintessential haven of Englishness. But it isn’t a stunt – though people are certainly taking notice.

Four years since the law to ban smoking in enclosed and semi-enclosed public buildings was introduced in England.. One English Parish –  the Parish Council of Stony – has now decided that they want to introduce a bylaw to ban smoking outdoors….in the streets, parks, and every other scrap of outdoor space that the Parish has control over.

The law to ban smoking indoors was never intended to go as far as it did. The original idea was to exempt private clubs and to let pubs provide smoking rooms. But egged on by the highly funded anti-tobacco lobby, Parliament’s paternalistic fervour took over and Parliament pushed through a blanket prohibition instead. That was a shameful act – one that a growing number of MPs feel, rightly, was not Parliament’s finest hour.

Now the people of Stony face an even more draconian ban, led by one Mr Bartlett, to ban all smoking outdoors. His arguments for imposing an outdoor ban would be funny were it not so serious…. He believes that the smoking ban would ‘make the environment cleaner’ and prevent ‘harm’ to children. He is quoted as saying :

 “Why should people have the freedom to smoke in my face, pass on diseases and spoil the environment? ….. When you walk through the high street in any town smoke is in your face and harming you and any children there…. Smokers then get their butt, which is full of saliva, and chuck it on the floor…It costs millions to clear street rubbish, and goodness knows what a child could pick up from them…”

I personally agree that the sight of cigarette butts on the streets is unsightly but on that basis you would ban every sweet, snack, soft drink and fast food sold in Britain. We already have the facility in this country to punish littering – just enforce them surely? As for the idea that puffing smoke into the open air can somehow “harm” children, or that discarded butts are spreading plague-like diseases throughout the UK is both ignorant and ridiculous. How such an ill-informed and inflammatory statement can be made by an elected official is simply beyond me.

This is NOT the free Britain we know and love.  As a nation we are still, thank goodness, proud of our individual freedoms and our tolerance of others. We are a nation of co-operative compromise – finding ways to accommodate the opinion and desires of the majority, without opressing the minority. 

Smokers have up until now largely accepted the laws laid down by Government. But you can only push a mild man so far – and no further. Smokers were bemused but now furious at the puritan’s increasingly outrageous accusations about the effects of smoking on others. They were surprised but now angry at the level of bile and hatred that these claims have incited. They were driven out of the pubs for reasons that were never proven nor clear – NOW they are to be cleared off the streets. They have rightly had enough.

Non smokers too are now joining the smokers in their fight. Many have come to realise from the rhetoric and growing hysteria of the puritans that once smoking has been “wiped from the face of the earth” these same people will turn their bile on drinkers, fatties, clubbers or any other section of society subject to their disgust and scorn.

So the fight back starts here. Smokers and non-smokers, businessmen and private citizens, young and old are taking to the streets this Saturday in Stony Stratford to say NO. We the people have for centuries past rubbed along together, altered our habits to accommodate changing social views, found happy compromise where differences emerge. We don’t need Government, local or national, to do it for us. And certainly not when it leads to people being driven off the streets based on daft ideas and groundless assertions. Nor will we allow to pass, unchallenged, measures that incite intolerance or victimisation of our friends and neighbours. And mostly we will not tolerate bullies – especially self-serving elected bullies who abuse their power.

If the bullies and puritans get their way in Stony Stratford we will see a ripple effect across the country – and they will be coming to your town and coming for you next. The fight starts here. Details of Saturday’s event..

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